Language effects on mental health stigma

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Walter, Molly
Washburn University
Issue Date
December 2015
Alternative Title
Language is powerful, and the social power of language and labels is something that still needs to be developed in the field of psychology. In two studies, we investigated the effects language had on the stigmatization of mental health problems, specifically depression and suicidal ideation. In study 1 we examined individuals’ emotional responses to, perceptions of, and biases towards those labeled with possesive-based or noun-based labels of depression. We hypothesized the noun-based label would be seen more negatively than either an individual labeled with the possessively-phrased label or an individual with no label and that an individual associated with the possessively-phrased label would be seen more negatively than an individual associated with no label. Results indicated that a label of depression appeared to benefit the labeled individual.. In study 2, we investigated the effects of joking about suicide on individuals’ perceptions and helping behaviors toward someone who admitted to having suicidal ideation. We hypothesized participants who hear someone joking about suicide will have more negative perceptions of someone who states feeling suicidal and that they would be less likely to report the suicidal ideation. While no significant results were found for study 2, we found trends supporting our hypothesis. Overall, the language that is used to discuss mental health has important implications. Whether this be due to the way we phrase labels or the context we use to talk about mental health, it is beneficial to understand what the impacts our conversations may have.